In this post, you are going to discover the 11 BIGGEST travel problems that plague many backpackers and how to avoid these mistakes!
What’s a travel problem? It’s a trap – a backpacker trap.
This world is a wild and wonderful place full of all sorts of temptations that can be the downfall of an unaware backpacker. Sometimes, these temptations take us on sordid affairs or whirlwind adventures.
More often than not though, they just get us STUCK. Stuck right in the trap.
You’re especially vulnerable to making the most basic and common travel mistakes when you’re new to the game. You’ve spread your wings, flown the nest, and found delicious freedom! FREEEDOOOOOMMMM!!!!
Except “freedom” can look a lot like messy nights, hungover mornings, and recovery days scrolling on your social feeds. And that right there is the definition of a travel problem.
When travelling, it’s real easy to get caught in a spiral of binge substances and mindless fornication. Initially, it starts as liberating, but it quickly turns to debilitating. It’s easy to numb yourself: it’s almost encouraged in many backpackeresque places…
But you did not hit the road to be numb; you did not work a shit job for a year just so you could waste your money being drunk; you did not sacrifice so much to achieve so little. To be on the road is the biggest opportunity for personal growth that you will ever have… and to take advantage of that, you need to ensure you don’t fall into any of these shiny, sexy, and usually misleading traps.
These are the 11 common travel mistakes I’ve encountered time and time again over my many years on the road, and I have fallen prey to every single one of them. And I can tell you from personal experience, they DO cheapen your travels.
So today, I want to show you these mistakes. I want you to know the stickiest backpacker traps of all so you can skirt right around them in your adventures.
And travel better. Longer, slower, harder, and further than ever before.
Let’s burst the bubble.
I Got 11 Travel Problems…
And that’s eleven too many!
There are plenty of pitfalls on the winding roads that take you from one destination to the next. From partying too hard to travelling by way of Insta validation, here are the biggest travel problems you can cause yourself.
Are you ready? The road to recovery starts with a single step…
1. Partying Hard, Not Smart
Many a temptation awaits the intrepid soul down the well-trodden backpacking trail. The monkey is always lingering with its sultry gaze, and the most seductive temptation of all is always cheap booze.
There are oodles of wicked party hostels out there, but on top of that, the hostel life often goes hand in hand with liquor-fulled nights. Almost every hostel runs a pub crawl and some even offer welcome drinks. Getting shitfaced with sexy strangers is the quickest way to make friends while solo travelling, so naturally, hostels encourage non-stop boozin’ and cruisin’!
The backpacker life is famous for hazy party nights, but drinking excessively while travelling is the first misstep into a downward spiral.
A night of partying turns into sleeping in late and then barely leaving the hostel during the day before dragging your living remains back to the bar for another happy hour in the evening. Pretty soon, you’re stuck in this endless cycle, and that, my amigos, is a tried-and-true backpacker trap.
You can’t outrun a hangover: that’ll ruin your day anywhere in the world. On top of that, you’ll waste your precious few bucks that could be better spent on further adventures. (And nothing’s more miserable than having to listen to the kid who was downing buckets the night before complaining that they don’t have any money to chip in on the tuk-tuk.)
I enjoy a good shindig here and there but the days of aggressive binge drinking are far behind me. Once you hit your 30s, you learn to appreciate eight hours of sleep and a clear head. Plus, why would you want to miss out on all those exotic sunrises?
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2. The Muddy Waters of the Ganja Bubble
The second siren of seduction that backpackers ultimately find in their travels is the devil’s lettuce: weed is EVERYWHERE. Drugs and travel go hand in hand like… well… sex and travel! Or drugs and sex!
As for drugs, sex, and travel? Well, let me just unbutton my pants, lol.
Listen, I smoke. I smoke regularly. Hell, for a massive chunk of my life, I’ve been a daily smoker; I can honestly say that I believe ganja is volumes better for your health than alcohol.
But too much of anything is never going to be good for you. A joint is excellent for de-stressing at the end of a long workday. It’s the perfect complement to a bang-on sunset (and the perfect complement to a bang-on bang).
But the ganja bubble is hella hard to burst. In countries where it’s cheap and plentiful, backpackers pass joints around more than they pass around travel tips. Spinning with tobacco (which is particularly relevant to hashish) also adds a physically addictive element into the mix.
Just beware the wake and bake. Beware the one mate in the hostel that always seems to be rolling a joint and the subconscious desire to sit next to him when he does. Too much of Shiva’s green will simply leave you lethargic, out of touch, and prone to making numerous other common travel mistakes (like forgetting your bloody toothbrush).
Enjoy your smoke but just remember that sometimes when the eccentric Russian man offers you a gravity bong for the sixth day in a row, it’s ok to say no.
3. Getting Glued to the Screen
Oh, God. Here’s a travel problem that was barely even a problem when I started! I can give you a gazillion-and-one reasons why your phone is ruining your trip.
Spending too much time on your phone is one of the WORST problems faced by travellers. Not only does constant pic-snapping, Insta-influencing, and Tinder-swiping consumes ungodly amounts of time and energy, but it causes you to forget about the world around you.
Y’know… the whole reason you went travelling in the first place.
Your not-as-smart-as-it-likes-to-think-phone is also making you less social: in hostels, no one wants to start a conversation with the twat whose nose is married to their phone screen. Even when you’re lost, whipping out your phone instead of asking the people around you means lost opportunities to connect with locals and maybe even scoring some cool new friendships (India notwithstanding – don’t ask for directions in India).
I fucking hate social media, but it isn’t the only culprit here. When you rely too much on your phone, it becomes such an integral part of your travel experience that you forget to stop and smell the roses. Or more often than not, smell the trash and poop (again, India…). But even that is a beautiful part of the adventure and one you can surely never get through your phone screen.
Smartphones make travelling easier and safer – they DO have their purpose. They also get in the way of authentic connections and keep you walled off from the exquisite misadventures that turn into your best travel stories. It’s not the way our nomadic ancestors roamed the land, and if they could make it without a phone, I promise you can too.
4. Traipsing the Tourist Trail
The big tourist attractions are big for a reason. If you go to Italy and refuse to see the Colosseum out of some hipster-y principle, then my dear friend, you are an idiota (in a fantastic pair of skinny jeans). But while picking and choosing the popular spots to visit is a part of experiencing the country, sticking to that well-worn tourist trail is a huge travel mistake not to make.
Getting off the beaten path can be a little scary at first. There usually isn’t a ton of info online about what you’re getting yourself into. But you know what?
That’s the whole damn point!
Who knows what the Godzilla you’ll find! Dragons, hobbits, locals throwing underground raves, or just a mesmerising sight that the tourists ON the trail will never find.
Travelling off the beaten path has heaps of perks compared to only visiting the most popular destinations, cities, and sites. In the age of massive over-tourism, off-the-beaten-path travel is way more sustainable than getting stuck on worn trails. It’s probably cheaper too: you’re no longer paying rip-off rates for an obscured view of an overrated attraction (plus the entry fees to said attraction).
It also puts you closer to local life. When you venture off the tourist trail, you get to see the local way of things from eating better food to mingling with people who actually know the place. That always beats hanging out with a bunch of other tourists.
The whole point of travelling is to grow, and growth starts at the edges of your comfort zone. Nothing ejects you out of the cozy confines of the comfort bubble more than traipsing the trails less taken, empty of all other bright-eyed, bushy-tailed backpackers. Charging into the unknown headfirst, eyes wide and shoulders back, is the thing to do when travelling!
Remember: you’ll never find yourself unless you get lost first.
5. Walling Yourself Off from the Local Culture
Once upon a time, you might have thought that the pinnacle of backpacker evolution was snorting cocaine off of a Colombian’s elbow while downing kamikaze shots with your toes. But that’s not the REAL reason you travel, is it?
While a debauched and sinful night of hostel shenanigans is certainly a catharsis from time to time, travel isn’t about the parties. It’s not about the photo-ops or even about the sunsets.
It’s about people.
There’s no point in travelling if you’re not willing to show an interest in learning about the culture and people of a place. That’s the best part about getting out of your homeland: experiencing new peoples and customs. Learning about the world we live in.
One of the common mistakes travellers make is to do the bare minimum to engage with the local culture. Visiting a few temples and having a brief convo and selfie shoot with the taxi driver doesn’t cut it. No one is saying that you have to come away ready to write a thesis about where you’ve been, but sitting down for coffee with the locals or taking time to engage with the people you meet goes a long way.
People are going to show an interest in you as you travel because you’re foreign and different and exotic. It’s a sincere curiosity.
That same sincere curiosity extended to them creates, wait for it, a sincere travel experience. Of course, not all days are you going to want to stop for a ten-minute handshake in Morocco, but stopping, talking, conversing, and asking questions about the locals’ experience and life will reward you in ways that deepen your travel experience.
The best you can do is to make an effort. Learn a few words in the local language (‘hi’, ‘thank you’, and ‘bro, that’s sick’ go a long way), eat at local restaurants, and try to meet locals through Couchsurfing.
It’s normal to want to have YOUR travel experience YOUR way. But one of the biggest travel problems of the tourism industry is that it creates a wall between visitors and the people that call a destination ‘home’.
You ARE a visitor in their home, and visitors show respect.
6. Letting Your Travel Buddy Lead the Way
You know you’re being led into this backpacker trap when you find yourself looking for travel mates. Finding travel buddies on the road is an awesome and connecting experience, however, being thirsty for it out of fear of going alone is a slippery slope.
Whether you’re a dude or a dudette, you don’t need a partner, friend, or group to travel. The organic meetings are excellent, but if you feel like you need someone, you’re vulnerable to becoming the follower in your travels and not the leader. And there can be many problems with travelling with friends.
Everything is an act of compromise, and it’s all too easy to let your amigo take the lead while you play second fiddle with zero responsibility. You might end up skipping a town you wanted to visit or sticking around one too long when you wanted to bounce.
Being a solo backpacker is downright fucking EPIC – you should never be afraid to go it alone. New backpackers are always worried that they’re going to be lonely on the road when they should be worried about the opposite. Personal space can be kinda hard to come by, meanwhile, befriending fellow travellers is simple.
One of the biggest and most common travel mistakes I encounter is meeting people not doing what they really want to be doing because they’re tied to travelling with someone.
Going totally solo is fantastic! You call the shots, you’re the boss, and there’s no discussion or compromise.
There’s a time and a place for travelling with someone, but ultimately, you’ll find the most growth in self-reliance. And the best adventures can be had with your very bestest friend with the cutest of butts.
(Psst – that’s you.)
7. Burning Yourself Out
Five cities in six days, party till the dawn, and then off for a sunrise hike the next morning? They say you can sleep when you’re dead but at that rate, you’ll end up roundhouse-kicking the bucket before your trip even ends!
Travel burnout is a real bitch. Backpacking is EXHAUSTING; it doesn’t have to be, but the harder you push (particularly solo offbeat budget backpacking) the more you’ll feel the weariness. Whether you’re trying to jam too much into your trip or you’re trying to juggle a tiny budget, the constant flow of the adventure can wear you down.
It’s important – nay, CRUCIAL – that you recognise the signs of burnout in yourself. When you start to feel it, take a break. Pushing past the limits of your physical and mental health is good for a time – there’s growth in that – but if you find yourself about to keel over before another long hitch, it’s time to treat yo’ self!
Get yourself a comfy room for a few nights to reduce some stress while travelling. Binge-watch some Netflix, eat cake, smoke a few Scooby Dooby Doos, and pay back some sleep debt. When you’re feeling burnt out… that’s the time to enter the ganja bubble!
8. Underpreparing vs. Overpreparing
Ah yes, the two classic backpacker archetypes: the over-preparer who rocks out of the airport terminal with a notarised binder of an itinerary in hand, and the under-preparer who shows up in a new country not even knowing what the currency is.
Over-preparing for your trip is a tried-and-true travel issue. There’s just so much to see and so little time! When you have a set travel route though, it’s hard to budge from that and FOMO gnaws at your innards like a little rat-
What if I miss out? What if this delightfully spontaneous adventure takes me away from my itinerary route?
Damn your itinerary to the fiery furnaces of Hell! In reality, you’re more likely to miss out if you DON’T stay flexible. The pantheon deities of Backpackistan reward those who risk their fortune. The road takes you to strange places; travel happens when you say yes to unexpected opportunities.
At the same time, it’s really not smart to hurtle yourself into adventure completely unprepared either. The more your travel destinations level up in complexity, the more pre-trip research you need to put in. Visas, cultural customs, and budget expectations are all pretty essential things to know about before travelling, not just for your safety and experience but also simply to reduce some of the inevitable stress of journeying into an unknown land.
In the worst-case scenario, you might even get denied entry somewhere if you don’t have all of your ducks in a row. It’s a real bummer being turned away from your flight to Bali just because you didn’t realise that you needed an onward flight. Or worse yet, going backpacking in Iran with no cash on hand when you didn’t know that foreign cards don’t work there. Ouch.
9. Not Slowing Down
Bouncing off the last section, that little voice of FOMO in your head? Yeah, sometimes it’s good to just tell it to STFU.
Sometimes, you need to slow down in your travels because you’re tired and just in need of a break. And sometimes, it’s your gut that’s telling you to slow down. When that happens, it’s good to listen.
Slow travel is where it’s at! It’s cheaper to move slow, you learn to stress less over the infinite things to do when travelling, and it allows you to truly enjoy the communities you venture upon. You have time to meet the people and make legitimate friendships – the friends that ask you to come back one day.
One travel problem that I’d like to see backpackers moving away from is the need to power around a country in two weeks. When your gut tells you to stay somewhere, listen.
Maybe there’s someone in town you need to meet. Maybe there’s something the place has to teach you. Maybe your heart just really likes this area and is called to stay for a spell.
And then, to borrow an ancient wisdom from the Aboriginal Peoples of Australia, when you’re gut tells that you’ve received what you needed from a place… then it’s time to leave. Take the learning and the gift, say thank you, and depart in good spirits.
10. Overpacking that Backpack
The FIRST rule of packing for any trip is to lay out everything you want to take and then half it. And still, newbie backpackers look at that piece of advice, shrug it off, and say, ‘Yeah, fair, but I still really wanna bring my unicycle.’
We’ve all made the same mistake: every single backpacker. And we make it time and time again.
Even if you think you’ve got it down pat, you always end up carrying a few things you just didn’t need. Overpacking is one of the most common travel problems. We should all know better by now!
Write a packing list for your backpacking trip. Cram it with the legitimate essentials and leave all the nifty gizmos and gadgets that are marketed as ‘MUST-HAVE BACKPACKING GEAR’ off of it.
In reality, these are mostly just useless doodads taking up space. Instead, pack some extra socks and undies (which is always a legitimate essential).
Do you really need a foldable cup if you already have a reusable water bottle? Or a clothesline? Or a pen that writes in zero gravity? You’re going to France, dude, not Jupiter!
If you ever find yourself packing something “just in case”, throw it out. Toss it. Yeet it as far as the eye can see. Most things that you’ll need on the road you can buy anywhere in the world.
Except dental floss: stock up on floss.
11. Skipping Out on Travel Insurance
And this is the BIG one – the ultimate thing NOT to do when travelling. Don’t go gallivanting around the globe without some top travel insurance coverage.
Lemme tell you: a story about young and stupid Will. The Will with more hair on top, less sense in his head, and a beard that looked decisively more… pubic.
We’ll call him Dickhead.
Dickhead decided to go trekking in the jungles of Costa Rica. Dickhead decided to do it without travel insurance.
My leg got infected; like, a proper infection. The kind that leaves you delirious and hearing heavenly choirs singing while the local doctors quietly murmur in Spanish about how they could best break it to the gringo that they have to amputate his leg.
One hightail to the nearest private hospital later and I was able to keep my leg… For the low low cost of $15,000.
Except, plot twist: I did have travel insurance. Because I wasn’t a (total) dickhead.
Aren’t you glad I did though? If I hadn’t have had travel insurance, instead of being a wildly successful travel blogger with a winning smile, I’d be a one-legged man with a cane yelling at kids to get off my lawn.
Every broke backpacker is trying to save a penny wherever they can. But your personal safety is NOT something you cheap out on.
I can’t tell you to get travel insurance, but I can tell you that you bloody well ought to think about it! Hard.
And when you realise I’m right, read our review of World Nomads – the only travel insurance provider I trust to cover me. And then go ahead and click the button below to get a quote.
And then breathe a sigh of relief. Because you’re not a dickhead.
And What to Do When You Do Get Stuck?
Alrighty, amigos! I’m going to share my best tips with you for what happens when you DO fall prey to the classic backpacker traps.
Get stuck too long and you’ll feel exhaustion creep in. It could be a physical exhaustion, it could be mental, or it could even be emotional. But one way or another, that is the perils of travel burnout. And it SUCKS.
The Moody Blues is not something you want when on the road. It can be real lonely and it can be real hard to find your motivation again. But worse than that, being melancholic while travelling will disengage you from the experience more than any other travel problem will.
So when you do find yourself plopped right in the trap and the black dog lurking, here’s what you do. Or at least, here’s what I do:
- Exercise – It’ll clear your brain fog, raise your motivation, and boost all the feel-good chemicals in your brain too! Take some time out of the adventure to invest in your body. It’ll help: I promise.
- Or Hike – Because a spot of day hiking is just exercise with something pretty to look at! Reconnecting with nature is a huge plus when your mood dips on the road. Sometimes a long walk and talk to yourself (yes, I’m serious) really is all you needed.
- Journalling – Another act of talking and listening to yourself! A mixture of some good ol’ fashioned braindumps onto the page and some reflecting on what your grateful for goes a long way to helping your mood. And spend some writing time reflecting on your values and the WHY your travelling too: that’ll set you right pretty damn quick!
- Move – You’re a bloody backpacker, remember? Grab your backpack and just bounce! Sometimes, we may not even realise we’re in the wrong place or with the wrong people; sometimes, just moving on to something new and more congruent with ourselves is the best thing we can do.
- Call Someone – Legit – pick up the phone and call a friend. Call your family. Call someone who loves you.
Homesickness is totally normal when travelling, and the best thing to do when you’re far from the people who know you best is to just pick up the phone and call them. Their guidance can help steer you back on the right path, provided you’re honest with them about where you’re at.
And at the end of the day, is there any shame in calling your mum when you feel like crap and just miss home? No, there is absolutely not. Call her – she’ll be ecstatic that you did.
Step 12: Getting Unstuck – Learn from Your Mistakes When Travelling
The first step of any recovery process is to admit that you have a problem. Once you accept you have a problem, the fix is usually pretty simple: just change your habits!
- Spending too much time on your phone? Remove social media apps, leave the phone at the hostel for the day, or set up a screen time monitor that shames you into putting the phone down.
- Backpack weighing too heavy? Start chucking shit. Many hostels have a donation box where your Pikachu onesie might become another backpacker’s next clubbing outfit.
- Burned out? Just take a break. You deserve it.
Often, you get seduced down the path of sin by fellow backpackers and their wild ways. But there will always be more booze, babes, and bud. But some of the traps that you find yourself stuck in when travelling might just keep you away from something that’s much more once-in-a-lifetime than another bevvie.
Luckily, the beauty of solo travel is that YOU call the shots, every single time. If you find yourself in company with people who don’t align with your values, bid them adieu. If you can feel you’re not happy with how you’re travelling, pivot and redirect.
Travel – proper real long-term solo travel – is not a holiday. It’s life on the road. And in life, we still have to take care of ourselves and ensure we’re on the right path.
Both the journey of a thousand miles and the program of 12-steps start with the single compassionate step of listening to yourself. No one’s a great traveller when they first start out: you’re going to fuck up a lot.
Make all the mistakes you need on your way to enlightenment. Power through travel problem after travel problem. Stand in front of the mirror and scream in anguish:
What’s wrong with me!!!!!
Then pick yourself up, get your shit together, and change what you need to change. You’re a goddamn solo backpacker.
Go be epic.
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